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Five ways to make maintenance your competitive advantage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – No matter which way you slice it, a good maintenance program is crucial to the success of your transportation business.

That’s according to the truck repair experts at Master Fleet LLC, who gave a presentation to attendees at the PeopleNet/TMW in.sight user conference in Nashville earlier this week.

Tom Anderson, v.p. of finance and operations, David Hooper, director of commercial fleet management (southeast region) and Kimm Dewitt, general manager told attendees that maintenance is an area that more need to pay attention to. And no matter the size of your fleet or how many technicians you have on your payroll, any company can make maintenance its competitive advantage with some simple steps.

“Maintenance is generally the third highest cost in a transportation company,” Anderson said. “This means the cost of maintenance is controllable. Think about how many decisions you and your company makes that impacts your maintenance costs. The thing about maintenance costs is, as soon as you make reductions, it goes right to your bottom line.”

  1. Review your preventative maintenance program and checklist

“We consider a good PM program the backbone of your maintenance program…period,” explained Hooper. “A good PM program is your opportunity to control your costs because you can capture a piece of equipment and control it before it breaks down on the road. Where we used to think that PM was a necessary evil, and something that you just had to do…but it’s actually your opportunity to maintain equipment before it costs you more later. It is the foundation of a good maintenance program.”

Hooper explained that in order to have a good PM program starts with a carefully written PM checklist. He admits that many shops never review or refer to their checklists.

“Do you checklists make any sense?,” he asked.  “When was the last time you actually looked at them because it need to be comprehensive in nature…especially when it comes to how the tech is moving around the truck. How many times is that technician going under that truck? You have to augment the process. Make sure that technician is not wasting a lot of steps. We’ve always developed our PM sheet so our techs flow around the entire vehicle one time, which means no wasteful time and steps.”

  1. Set out and publish clear repair stances

Hooper said that an effective maintenance program will operate like a doctor’s office instead an emergency room – so trucks are coming in for routine check up, not just when they break down.

Having your shop operate like a doctor’s office means having published repair stances that are known by everyone in the shop, Hooper said. He said meetings should be conducted so everyone knows things like what to do if you notice a chip in the windshield. Rules need to be set so that if the chip is larger than a dime, for example, the chip needs to be filled or the windshield needs replacing before a crack occurs, he explained.

“ I’ve been in the industry a long time, I’ve run some shops, I know when to replace brakes,” he said. “But it’s more important to me to know that those techs on the floor know when to replace breaks and for those repair stances to be discussed, published and laminated in that tech’s toolbox. Because repair stances are something that need to be understood all the way to the floor level. It shouldn’t just be passed from one foreman to the next.”

He added that shops need to think about making these stances standardized so the tech on day shift makes the same call as the tech on night shift.

To get started on your repair stances, Hooper advised to look at the DOT maintenance criteria.

“But that should be the least amount of repair stances you have,” he said. “So that’s where you start. The company criteria will vary from shop to shop. For example, are you running to Texas? When are you going to start fixing air conditioning and what are you going to do about climate control? That’s how you make decisions that should be published.”

  1. Recruit from tech schools

Much like on the driving side of the transportation industry, maintenance shops are struggling to hire young people who want to be a technician.

“It’s getting harder to recruit technicians. Not only is it competitive, but the generation today is different from when I grew up,” said Dewitt.

To combat the shortage, Dewitt said that shops need to have a clear strategy in place for hiring younger people. He said that shops should focus their attention on schools first to educate young people about the trucking industry.

“If you have a tech school close to your shop, establish a relationship with that school,” he said. “So anytime you can attend their events, like an open house, you should go. You want to get in front of these kids and their parents and educate them on the industry. That will help them with their decisions in the future and maybe give trucking a second glance.”

  1. Hire based on attitude, not skill

“I think all of us would like to hire a tech that has all the skill to diagnose and repair everything right the first time,” said Dewitt. “As well as someone who has the right attitude and can get along with everyone and is good with customers. Unfortunately, those people aren’t the ones looking for jobs.”

Dewitt said that when faced with the challenge of hiring someone with skills with a bad attitude, versus someone who doesn’t have the best skill set, but has a positive attitude, he will also hire the tech with the better attitude.

“It’s easier to train them to get the technical skills, than to train someone with skills into having the right attitude,” he said.

  1. Organize the shop

Finally, Dewitt said that an easy way to help your maintenance shop run smoothly is to put simple things in place to make it organized.

This includes putting numbers on your bay doors if you have multiple bays (so techs aren’t not wasting time locating a truck) and creating a visual workspace when it comes to displaying tools.

“A visual workspace eliminates wasted time,” he said. “So, if you have a place for everything, that becomes an expectation and sets a tone in your shop. With a visual workspace, everybody knows where everything goes and where they can find it. Plus, you can tell if something’s missing from your shop.”

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